Tag Archives: church websites

Visiting Anchorage? There’s a plethora of worship services to sample and savor in our diverse city

Alaska receives more than 1 million visitors each summer. If you are a person of faith, you can locate many worship options in our community. All major religions are represented. Our churches meet in places ranging from beautiful cathedrals to school facilities and shopping malls. There are many ways to locate interesting churches here. In this column I’m sharing a few of these ways and offering pointers for enriching your stay in our beautiful city.

Finding a Church:

The internet is usually the easiest way to find a church. Leaning toward a particular denomination? Search for the denomination and Anchorage. You will find many choices. Be cautious about selecting churches where the pastor and church’s pictures are the main pictures shown. Unfortunately, some of those church pastors and members seem to be prouder of themselves and the church building, than of their  members’ hard work exercising their faith in the community. Conversely, pictures of church members at worship, play and community service speak volumes compared to sermons or grand church buildings.

Beware of church websites showing only pictures of the splendors of Alaska’s mountains, lakes, rivers and other vistas. From my extensive church visiting experience, many of these churches have forgotten their mission. Some churches mistakenly believe Facebook is their new webpage. If you encounter one of those listings, move on, as they’re out of touch with the purpose of social media; it’s not intended to replace church websites; both are important.

The Matters of Faith page in Alaska Dispatch News, on which you find this article, contains notices of various church offerings, often not just those pertaining to the Christian faith. You may be able to find a special event or service of note by perusing the listings of this community service. I’ve often found a service there of which I’d not been aware.

On my blog, churchvisits.com I’ve posted a list of 10 local churches I consider to be safe choices for first-time visitors seeking warm, welcoming worship services. In that list, I evaluate various service aspects to help you choose a great church. During many years of visiting churches, I’ve looked for and evaluated churches by four distinct criteria. First, I look for a warm and friendly greeting. Next, I quickly determine if this church was hospitable or not. Was the sermon delivered in a “listenable” manner and did I learn some new truth from it? Finally, was the music a big show or entertainment, or did it appropriately support the sermon theme? Too often, many modern churches present 30-45 minutes of earsplitting, high-decibel music that jangle eardrums and senses. On the other end of the musical spectrum, Alaska’s Orthodox  churches pleasingly incorporate music and liturgy for the entirety of their service.

Churches worthy of visits for outstanding features

All of the churches listed below have an unusual feature or two worth going out of the way for. Check with the church office to inquire if they’re accessible for viewing outside of worship hours; many also have explanatory pamphlets.

Holy Family Cathedral

This downtown Roman Catholic cathedral was the site of a visit by Pope John Paul II in 1989 during his trip to Anchorage. They recently installed six beautiful stained glass windows made in Bavaria in 1889 and rescued from a shuttered church. An instant local treasure, they’re a tribute to congregation and clergy desiring to place beautiful reminders of the Gospel story into their worship space. Newly restored Stations of the Cross are also now in place.

First Presbyterian Church

The modern architecture of this downtown church houses a fantastic wall of stained glass. Composed of dalle, or slab glass panels, this wall of light and color is filled with spiritual themes; a wonder to behold.

All Saints Episcopal Church

Sited among the high-rises of downtown, this small church houses beautiful stained glass panels on three of the four sanctuary walls. Sen. Ted Stevens lay in repose here before his funeral.

Resurrection Chapel – Holy Spirit Center

This upper Hillside Catholic chapel offers 180-degree views of the mountains to the west and north of Anchorage. The view of Denali, North America’s tallest peak, is breathtaking here.

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church

Sweeping vistas of the Chugach and Kenai mountains are offered from their east and south facing sanctuary windows. A wonderful Bach-type organ in the sanctuary is used on Sundays.

St. John United Methodist Church

The Rev. David Fison at United Methodist carved two totems, representing several Christian traditions, during his pastorate in Southeast Alaska. One, a replica erected outside, depicts the Christmas story. The other, also in replica outside, depicts the Easter story, while the original, more than 20 feet tall, is inside the sanctuary of this lower Hillside church.

United Methodist Church of Chugiak

If you’d like to see Denali through a church window, there’s no better place to see it than in this church. With floor to ceiling glass facing Denali, it’s a delightful way to worship God, bringing nature right into the church.

St. Nicholas Orthodox Church – Eklutna

A short drive north of Anchorage is the small Alaska Native village of Eklutna where you’ll find an old log Russian Orthodox Church, a graveyard with traditional native spirit houses, and a new Orthodox church. Guided tours are available, and donations are requested for maintenance and upkeep.

St. Innocent Russian Orthodox Cathedral

This Russian style cathedral contains beautiful iconography and is a delight to visit.

Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church

Housing a diverse congregation, this new basilica style church contains icons that are a part of this ancient faith. If you are here during August, the congregation’s  Alaska Greek Festival, with music, food, and dancing, is not to be missed.

St. John Orthodox Cathedral – Eagle River

Located in a quiet area north of Anchorage, this striking Antiochian Orthodox cathedral is a beautiful site for pictures externally, and internally a feast for the eyes of architecture and icons. While there, look for the small chapel, St. Sergius of Radonezh Chapel, a short hike away from the main cathedral.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, churchvisits.com.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

Many church websites missing chances to attract visitors

When I’m looking for churches to visit, I almost always look at accompanying websites with my “church visitor eye.” These sites should be well-designed. They should show the ministry, rather than pictures of the church or beautiful surroundings. They should contain the basics: location, service times, phone number.  And they should be up to date. Unfortunately, with the explosion of social media, many churches mistakenly believe websites are no longer important. Consequently some churches desperately try to push much about their church to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, and in doing so risk becoming invisible to prospective guests.

Recently, while planning to visit a local Orthodox church for Great Lent, I found its website not up to date. The most current calendar was August 2015, with nothing on the main webpage about Great Lent. I discovered they pushed most church activities to Facebook. How would a prospective guest find them?

This week I looked at several local church websites, finding good and not so good. I’m sharing my impressions in this column not to belittle or embarrass any church, but to examine the strengths and weaknesses of the different approaches these churches take. ( Churches are presented in alphabetical order.)

Abbott Loop Community Church www.abbottloop.org

I found this homepage — dominated by a scrolling slideshow of five coming events — overly long. Although service times are shown on one of those slides, prospective visitors might not wait to see it. The church location and phone number are at the bottom of the page, way down. Easter and Good Friday were still showing as events at the bottom of the page. Abbott Loop makes its Sunday sermons available via audio. Thinking they might be viewable as well, I clicked the “multimedia” tab only to discover they were just audio. Abbott’s website was too busy for me.

Amazing Grace Lutheran Church www.amazinggracealaska.org

One of the simplest websites I viewed, this one turned out to be one of the best. It shows times of service, location, and phone number in full view at the top of the screen. Simple, moveable graphics show parishioners and themes without resorting to a church picture. A pulldown menu allows easy access to most information one would need about this South Anchorage church. I particularly liked the up-to-date and complete church calendar located under the heading “news.” I wish more church websites used this simple but extremely effective approach.

Anchorage Baptist Temple www.ancbt.org

Pictures of the church and its pastor adorn the top of Anchorage Baptist Temple’s first page, a website no-no according to church web designers. ABT’s website is incredibly busy to the eye, requiring a significant amount of scrolling to reach the bottom of the page to see all they offer. Some of the best websites in the world have only one main page, the amount shown on one’s computer screen. ABT’s schedule of services at the top is a positive touch, but unfortunately one must scroll to the very bottom to find the church’s location. I got dizzy scrolling down through the vast array of pictures and links.

Anchorage Bible Fellowship www.anchoragebiblefellowship.org

I like ABF’s straightforward one-page construction with service times and location prominently displayed. Unfortunately, however, it’s dominated by changing pictures of Alaska wildlife, mountains, and scenery. The purpose of churches is to spread the gospel, not serve as tourist bureaus. How much more effective these pictures would be if they showed this church and members at worship and work in the community.

ChangePoint www.changepointalaska.com

Artfully designed webpages offer easy navigation to show visitors ChangePoint’s service times. Their location is not shown, however, and I could not find it. ChangePoint offers particularly useful media replay options of past sermons for viewing or listening which are usually posted the same day as they’re delivered. I particularly like ChangePoint’s blog where pastors post follow-up questions to Sunday sermons as a means of driving home the applicability of the message.

Cornerstone Church www.akcornerstone.org

Cornerstone’s attractive website is well-laid-out with one main page and nicely categorized pulldown menus for necessary information. Service times are shown on the main page, but one has to hunt for the church’s location. On closer inspection, I found it at the very bottom of the page, along with the phone number, but it is faint and easy to miss. Cornerstone has been effective at providing viewing access to their Sunday sermons. Their website is always clean, adorned with graphics central to their mission, and easy to use.

Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox www.transfiguration.ak.goarch.org

This beautiful church has a simple but effective website. It gives access to most activities in the church. Part of the beauty of Holy Transfiguration lies in its considerable iconography tied to many religious figures in its ancient faith. A rolling slideshow display of the interiors of the church depicts these icons. Clicking on any picture brings up a detailed description. The slideshow could be more effective if pictures of parishioners, working to support the mission of this church, were interspersed. It’s unfortunate Rev. Vasili Hillhouse’s pragmatic but engaging homilies are not captured and shared with the public here also.

We live in a culture dominated by clicking on web pages. If a website doesn’t deliver, visitors click to the next one and it becomes a lost opportunity.

“I don’t think that the importance of a church website can be overstated” said Adam Legg, ChangePoint’s creative arts and communication pastor. “Now, does that mean it has to be your church’s primary digital communication tool? No. But is it important for your church to have one? Yes. Why? Because a website is the primary way that people find you online, and in a digital world that is incredibly important! We know from research that as many as 8 or 9 out of 10 church visitors will visit your church’s website before visiting your church. If they can’t find you online, that makes it difficult for them to connect with you.”

Social media is another important component of a church’s online presence, and I’ll write about that in an upcoming column.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, churchvisits.com.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, emailcommentary(at)alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words toletters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

Are church websites tracking you? – 8/2/14

Are church websites tracking you?

An article by Adam Tanner in Forbes magazine online instantly got my attention. Titled “God Is Not The Only One Watching Over Your Church’s Website” (July 28), it revealed astounding information about the extent to which many churches and other religious websites allow “trackers” to collect information about who visits them, and what they look at while there.

Tanner describes using the tracker discovery and blocking software Disconnect (disconnect.me) at the request of an Anglican priest friend. He discovered the priest’s church website contained 10 trackers. Going on, Tanner looked at various religious websites and found a wide range of examples of website trackers, from the Vatican, which had none, to 48-49 for the Church of Scientology. A synagogue in Manhattan had eight, a Protestant church organization revealed 14 and an Islamic shrine in Mecca had four.

Tanner obtained an eyebrow-raising quote from a well-known megachurch researcher. “It does seem invasive of personal privacy,” said Scott Thumma, a professor of the sociology of religion at Hartford Seminary. “I am absolutely certain that very few religious leaders know their sites have this form of tracking… nor do most small secular businesses. They barely comprehend the basics and haven’t even considered tracking technology or the ethical implications of these features with their members.”

Trackers and tracking data, rarely identified, are used by religious organizations and marketers to potentially target you for advertising in the future. After visiting the site, you might receive pitches for books, videos or contributions to specific causes based on the types of websites you visited.

Our security-conscious environment, spurred by recent revelations about the vast amounts of data the National Security Agency has been collecting, suggests people need to understand what they can expect when visiting church websites. Adept Internet researchers can build amazing profiles of who you are and what you do. I question, as did Adam Tanner and Scott Thumma, the necessity and validity of such tracking.

Before writing this article I selected a cross-section of Anchorage-area church websites — including Catholic, mainline Protestant, evangelical, Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Baha’i. Analyzing each website using Disconnect, I found trackers are prevalent here, too. About half of the 34 local church websites I checked revealed one or no trackers, but the remainder had more than one. Saint John United Methodist Church had the most with 12, followed closely by First Church of Christ Scientist at 10. Saint John Orthodox showed nine. Interestingly, some of the Catholic churches had them, while others did not. Holy Cross Parish had seven, Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish showed six and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton had two, while St. Benedict’s Parish had none. For the Jewish community, the Lubavitch Center showed eight, while Temple Beth Shalom had seven. The Anchorage Islamic group had four, while the Buddhist group only had one. The Baha’i group showed none.

Anchorage’s two largest churches, ChangePoint and Anchorage Baptist Temple, showed two and one, respectively. The central Mormon website for Anchorage had four, as did Muldoon Community Assembly. Finally, of two Hillside churches, Hillside-O’Malley Seventh Day Adventist Church had eight trackers, while Trinity Presbyterian had three.

True North, a growing Anchorage church, uses technology heavily. “We don’t use a lot of tracking purposely,” said Brent Williams, True North pastor. Indeed, they don’t, as they only have one tracker. In a future article, I’m going to share the experience True North Church and ChangePoint have had with implementing apps to grow their churches.

Tracking is a relatively new technology for churches and website visitors to understand and deal with. Many churches are adopting privacy policies and posting them prominently on their websites. Here’s one example of such a policy used by an Outside church (whose identity I’m not disclosing); identical statements appear on many church websites: “The Site may use cookie and tracking technology depending on the features offered. Cookie and tracking technology are useful for gathering information such as browser type and operating system, tracking the number of visitors to the Site, and understanding how visitors use the Site. Cookies can also help customize the Site for visitors. Personal information cannot be collected via cookies and other tracking technology; however, if you previously provided personally identifiable information, cookies may be tied to such information. Aggregate cookie and tracking information may be shared with third parties.”

The privacy of a person’s relationship with their religious organization is an assumed fundamental right. Churches need to post their privacy policies prominently where people can access them easily on their websites. I suggest you use a piece of software like Disconnect to unmask tracking on all websites you visit, but most importantly on church websites. Amazon.com exposed me to 10 trackers as I wrote this article. Tools like Disconnect can show you who the tracker is, and in most cases these trackers can be blocked.

Churches must avoid all appearances of wrongdoing, which can start with that first contact a potential visitor has via their websites. Newer and more sophisticated tools are on the way, which will make this write-up look like child’s play. I commend those churches with little or no tracking. Churches with heavy tracking scores need to take a deeper look to protect the interests of those they come in contact with.

Original ADN Article Link

Guest Blog -Top 10 Church Website Design Mistakes of 2007

I recently discovered Dean Peters excellent website and blog called Heal Your Church. A great church website can be a friendly conduit for visitors and members alike. Poorly designed, it can ensure your church will not be seen as friendly and inviting resulting in wasted resources and perplexed website viewers. Dean has graciously agreed to allow me to share this information with you in it’s entirety. This is great information for church seekers & members and church website creators.

Top 10 Church Website Design Mistakes of 2007
It is the last day of 2007, so like every great media outlet I figured why not go through the archives and come up with a list of those topics that produced the deepest and most memorable mental scars. Below is my list of the top ten mistakes I’ve seen on church websites over the past year.

Mistakes I would hope that as a body we would resolve to remedy, though I suspect like most new year’s resolutions are destined for abandonment by about the 14th of February.

So with limited commercial interruption, I offer Mean Dean’s Top 10 Church Website Design Mistakes of 2007:

1. Believing you are your user:
Unless you’re writing a church website for a bunch of blogging pastors, frustrated graphic artists and/or “… burned out computer geeks, your user isn’t you. … This is very hard to get through somebody’s head; it’s very hard to get rid of this notion that what you like your user is going to like… Again, your user is not you.”

For the most part, people aren’t seeking the church experience online – rather they are shopping online for a real-world church experience. Those church webmasters that fail to realize this, fail to realize the full potential of their church website.

2. Flashination:
Flashination is a term I give to (church) websites that seem to be overly fascinated with Macromedia/Adobe Flash. What many church web servants fail to realize is that “.. fancy media on websites typically fails user testing …” at least according to Jakob Nielsen’s recent AlertBox entitled “Low-End Media for User Empowerment.”

Where I see Flashination most often is on banners, headers, and home pages of church websites – usually in the form of scrolling images from the Church. A visual effect that is cool precisely ONCE and from then on becomes a bandwidth consuming annoyance.

In response, allow me to quote some sage advice from Dr. Nielsen who wrote in his 1996 ‘Original Top Ten Mistakes in Web Design:’

Never include page elements that move incessantly. Moving images have an overpowering effect on the human peripheral vision. A web page should not emulate Times Square in New York City in its constant attack on the human senses: give your user some peace and quiet to actually read the text!

3. Church-speak:
Without getting into a raging debate over speaking in tongues, those in charge of getting out their church’s message need to understand that, at least in the U.S., 1 in 3 adults is unchurched. Meaning 1 in 3 adults don’t understand the church-speak that ‘bables-up‘ scribed in expensive color brochures, sermon videos and web sites.

Fact is, the church website isn’t about offering online brochureware nor a meas to show how cool a computer geek you are. The purpose of your church web page design is to convey the Christ that is in your congregation to the World by addressing the needs of seekers and members … AND by disciplining the same with the solid food of the Gospel.

If you do both these things then I can guarantee that you will not have to spend $5k on a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) expert, nor will you have to worry about justifying your church’s online marketing expenditures.

4. Turning your Homepage into a Splash Page:
What does it profit your church or charity’s website to have the most beautiful web pages ever designed if it doesn’t convince people to visit your church, engage in your ministries, or at least inquire for more information? Yet more and more often I review a graphically and technically impressive church website that is more an art project than effective ministry tool.

In the worse cases, the home page has become such as testament to the web designers Flash and CSS skills that the home page loses its effectiveness as an introductory and central point of navigation – degrading into a sometimes technically adept and entertaining splash page.

And if you don’t know what’s wrong with having a splash page – regardless of the webmaster’s displayed technical prowess – then we need to have a long email correspondence.

5. Thinking you’re Spurgeon:
There is something to be said about Shakespeare’s oft-quoted assertion from Hamlet:

‘… brevity is the soul of wit …‘

Or as usability expert Jakob Nielsen writes his 1997 post entitled “how people read the web:”

People rarely read Web pages word by word; instead, they scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences. In research on how people read websites we found that 79 percent of our test users always scanned any new page they came across; only 16 percent read word-by-word.

Or as I say in my post “George Orwell: 12 blogging tips:”

If all else fails, just remember this tried and true adage: “You’re not Spurgeon, quit trying to write like him.”

6. Image Bloat:
The tag in HTML should be treated with the same suspicion one glowers upon all those slickly packaged low-cal cookies we see in the diet food aisle of the grocer. Both promise to avoid a glutton’s guilt – but in both cases it smoke and mirrors, leaving you feeling bloated and sluggish.

One of the most perpetuated sins of church web design is image bloat – most often perpetrated in the form of thinking that somehow, the height and width argument of the tag somehow magically and physically shrinks an image file. It doesn’t – it only appears that way. Or in in the immortal words of usability and marketing guru, Vincent Flanders who wrote in his Father Flanders’ Sermon for Sunday, July 13, 2003:

Just because Jesus miraculously turned water into wine doesn’t mean he can miraculously turn your 1280- x 1024-pixel image whose file size is 1.8Mb into an image whose file size is only 74Kb just because you changed the WIDTH= and HEIGHT= attributes to WIDTH=”420″ and HEIGHT=”336″.

This mistake is so common that it’s beginning to be as annoying to me as the confessions of the students of the young men of my Jesuit high school were to Father Ambrose “For your penance say three Hail Mary’s” Forsthoefel.

In English, just because I write: does not magically or physically make my 920k image posted straight from my brand-spankin’ new digital camera load like a 20k image. Instead it means I make a page that should load in about 8 seconds take 188 seconds!

7. Using Religion is a ‘Chruch:’
We all know know at least one atheist, agnostic or skeptic who boldly (and often blindly) asserts religion is a crutch. Much in part due to the overbearing legalism and spiritual abuse that goes on in a minority of cases.
That said, I it is my prayer that the Church on the whole prove these individuals wrong, not only with Christian love and charity, but also with correctly spelled

It’s About Time…To Post Worship Service Times Prominently on Church Websites

In previous posts I’ve noted the importance of determining the church service time options for the church you intend to visit. The yellow pages are not a great option due to schedule changes, e.g. summer worship schedules, and once-a-year updating. This leaves each churches website as the next best option for finding this information.

My findings
I took an indepth look at the websites for the six church visits posted so far and found a mixed bag. I urge every church webmaster or web designer to make prominent posting of church worship times a first priority in design and updating. I’ve listed my findings below. I took the liberty of scoring website performance for church service time availability by church. By clicking on the bolded church name, you will also be taken to each website to see for yourself.

St. John United Methodist Church
Church worship times shown on the first screen in your line of sight without requiring scrolling or clicking to find.

Anchorage Baptist Temple
No church worship times listed on initial screen viewing area. Located on a Fathers Day link far down the initial page, they could also be located via a clickable link toward the top of the initial page Very busy screens make it difficult to find what you’re are seeking. The many illustrations remind me of those supermarket register tapes with all the advertising printed on the back.

First Presbyterian Church
No church worship times listed on initial screen viewing area. You must scroll to the very bottom of the screen to find them. They are shown in a tiny typeface.

No church worship times listed on initial screen viewing area. They are located at the bottom of the page in small type. I clicked all over this site without success until I finally scrolled down and found them. Their website uses a lot of small type making it harder to read which may have contributed to this dilemma.

Faith Christian Community
No church worship times listed on initial screen viewing area. They are located by clicking FIRST TIME GUESTS and selecting the Come Visit Faith! option. I liked the Google map opening up at the same time. This was the only church employ a map like this. Faith’s first screen takes forever to load which may be due to the loading of active content. Other than these things, their screens are uncluttered, very readable, and well laid out. Faith’s website proves “less is more”.

First Congregational Church
No church worship times shown anywhere on the first screen. Located by clicking the Worship & Music button. Very small typeface thoughout and hard to read.